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`GREATEST' IS IFFY TITLE FOR VIDEO SHOWCASING 20 YEARS OF OSCARS

OK, let's be honest. The Oscarcast - that televised extravaganza we watch each year even while complaining about it - is fascinating . . . in the same way an auto accident is something we're not sure we want to see, yet can't resist watching.

The question is, can a video titled "Oscar's Greatest Moments" (Columbia/TriStar Home Video, $19.95) be longer than 10 minutes?The answer: Yes, it's nearly a full two hours - and it only covers the past 20 years. But "Greatest" is certainly a relative term.

While it has amusing bloopers, some funny comedy routines and a special charm when the focus is on Hollywood veterans like Barbara Stanwyck, William Holden, John Wayne and Charlie Chaplin (who received a special Oscar in 1972 after a 20-year self-imposed exile from America), it also includes an awful lot of dreadful production numbers and unnecessary clips from Oscar-winning movies.

There are the expected moments, like the streaker who prompted a funny, if risque remark from host David Niven; Sacheen Littlefeather accepting Marlon Brando's award and offering a speech about the negative treatment of Native Americans by Hollywood; the shock when Vanessa Redgrave used her Oscar win as a political platform and the surprise when Jane Fonda didn't; Goldie Hawn reading George C. Scott's name as the best-actor winner for "Patton," etc.

And there is a quick-clip montage of singers who performed their Oscar-winning songs on the show, including Barbra Streisand. Yet, the only two complete, full-length songs on the tape are Sheena Easton's "For Your Eyes Only" extravaganza in 1982 and Madonna's Monroe-style rendition of "Sooner or Later" in 1990. Unfortunate choices both.

But you expect wrong-headed choices and unwarranted pomp and circumstance. This is, after all, the Oscars.

What you don't expect is academy president Karl Malden, who hosts the tape, reading the narration in such a flat, unenthusiastic manner. Perhaps they should have hired Bob Hope or Billy Crystal or Robin Williams to do the honors. (Why do they think Malden doesn't host the annual TV show?)

But movie fans won't be disappointed at the wit of past hosts Hope, Crystal, Johnny Carson and Chevy Chase, whose best comic moments highlight the tape. Or by the respect given the "Old Hollywood" stars during their appearances. Or by the sheer glamour of the movie stars present, particularly the women who show up in the outrageous dresses and hair styles worn during the past 20 years.

Real film buffs, however, may yearn for material from earlier Oscar eras, footage of Oscar programs filmed in the early days of television - or before television even came on the scene. Columbia/TriStar promises that two more tapes will follow later in this year, featuring pre-1971 material not shown here.

Now that will be something worth waiting for.